Claim to impartiality ‘laughable’ as Tories pile on insults

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The new British government under Boris Johnson has already displayed its contempt for the political process in Ireland by holding a private dinner with the DUP ahead of meeting the other political parties, while new Direct Ruler Julian Smith’s first message to the public was to express his joy at seeing a picture of the English queen on his desk.

Johnson held more formal talks with Stormont’s main parties in Belfast on Wednesday as he made his first visit to the Six Counties since becoming British Prime Minister.

But his first action on Tuesday evening was to dine with DUP leader Arlene Foster and DUP MPs Jeffrey Donaldson and Nigel Dodds after arriving into Belfast.

The event showed Johnson’s focus is on renewing the Tories’ confidence and supply deal with the hardline unionists who are keeping the minority Tory government in power.

Following Sinn Féin’s meeting with Mr Johnson, party leader Mary Lou McDonald said she told the British prime minister he had to stop being the DUP’s “gopher”.

Ms McDonald said his stated claim of impartiality was “laughable”.

“He tells us he will act with absolute impartiality, we have told him that nobody believes that,” she said. “Nobody believes that because there are no grounds to believe there is any kind of impartiality, much less strict impartiality.”

She said the confidence and supply deal at Westminster between the DUP and the Tories had “poisoned the groundwater” at Stormont.

“He asked for our advice and we have strongly advised him that to make progress here he needs to ensure that he is not the DUP’s gopher, he needs to stop mollycoddling them, he needs to spell out the realities of life to them and put pressure on his unionist colleagues to ensure we can land on an equitable and sustainable agreement,” she said.

Johnson’s visits to Scotland, Wales and finally the north of Ireland were greeted by jeering and booing crowds in Edinburgh and Cardiff and by a mixed bag of protestors in Belfast. Demonstrators from the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign as well as activists in favour of same-sex marriage, Irish language legislation and Harland & Wolff shipyard shouted slogans as he arrived.

But Johnson, who was joined at Stormont by newly-appointed Direct Ruler Julian Smith, merely reiterated his hardline Brexit-at-all-costs agenda, despite claiming to “attach huge importance to the letter, spirit of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement”.

It was a statement that rang hollow before he finished the sentence. He had left it to his Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to admit the Tories plan to simply impose full Direct Rule from London in the event of a no-deal Brexit, while his newly established ‘Office of Veterans Affairs’ snubbed victims of state violence and collusion by describing British killer soldiers as ‘the pinnacle of British character’ who should be protected by the government.

The hypocrisy was even clearer when Smith’s first message to his Irish subjects was a colonial-style picture of the English queen. In a tweet, he wrote: “Proud to have a picture of Her Majesty The Queen on the mantle piece of my private office at Stormont. I was delighted to see it there when I arrived last Friday.”

Smith was understood to be mocking a current controversy over employment equality legislation which has seen compensation paid to a civil servant required to walk a gauntlet of portraits of the English royal family.

The actions have confirmed the widely-held belief that as far as the north of Ireland is concerned, the Tories only priority remains the same as when Theresa May was in charge: a formula of clear and calculated insults to nationalists in order to keep the DUP placated, because the votes of its 10 MPs are vital for them to stay in power.

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